MANILA - A Maserati-driving businessman accused of mauling a traffic officer in the Philippine capital went on national television on Friday to defend himself after he was transformed into an Internet villain.
Mr Joseph Russel Ingco told national evening newscasts on Friday that he felt forced to explain his side of the incident out of safety fears. Mr Ingco was caught on video holding a traffic officer by his shirt and dragging him along the road out of the window of his blue Maserati Ghibli. The officer had flagged him down for a violation. "I am afraid for my safety. I am willing to face the consequences," Mr Ingco told GMA television, stuttering at some points during the interview.
The video, shot by a fellow traffic officer, went viral, drawing the ire of the country's vocal Facebook and Twitter mobs, and prompting the city authorities to put up a 100,000 peso (S$2,900) reward for information on the businessman's whereabouts.
Social media users vilified Mr Ingco, calling him a "road bully", "liar" and "mauler". "This shows that social media can be a tool for justice," Mr Francis Tolentino, head of a government body that manages traffic in Manila, told AFP on Saturday.
Mr Ingco admitted to punching the traffic officer, but said it was only to loosen the officer's grip on his shirt collar. He claimed the officer punched him too, though he had no visible bruises on his face.
Mr Ingco's victim Jorbe Adriatico will undergo surgery on Saturday to repair his broken nose.
"I still couldn't sleep. The incident keeps playing in my head," Mr Adriatico, with a bandaged nose, told ABS-CBN television of his Thursday morning run-in with Ingco.
Police filed an assault complaint against Mr Ingco before city prosecutors, who will decide if he is to stand trial. No arrest warrant has been issued.
Mr Tolentino vouched for the traffic officer's credibility, saying he had so far served an exemplary six years with the traffic bureau and was cited by police for helping arrest street criminals.
"I think he's telling the truth. He's a credible guy and we stand by him," he said.
Mr Tolentino said the video of the incident "affirms the truthfulness" of the traffic officer's statement.
Luxury sport scars such as Maseratis are rare sights in Manila, where narrow, ill-maintained roads breed monstrous gridlock that sometimes spark incidents of road rage.
In 2002, a cigarette company executive was pilloried on Twitter and Facebook after he slapped a traffic enforcer. He was suspended from work and charged in court with direct assault.
Mr Tolentino said he would help Mr Adriatico pursue charges against Mr Ingco and would oppose possible attempts at a settlement.
"Let's move towards justice," he said.